June 29, 2020 / 4:05 PM / 10 days ago

'Wear a mask!' Republicans split with Trump as virus cases surge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a rare break with mask-averse President Donald Trump, fellow Republican leaders are advocating for face coverings as COVID-19 cases surge in some Republican-leaning states.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there should be no stigma attached.

“Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said Americans should follow the recommendations of health officials to wear masks and socially distance themselves to help slow the spread of infection.

“They should wear a mask,” McCarthy told CNBC on Monday after his home state of California began to roll back efforts to reopen the economy.

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, where cases are spiking, posted a similar message on Twitter, writing: “I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!”

Trump has given different reasons for eschewing a mask in public, while his Democratic opponent in November’s election, Joe Biden, generally wears one.

FILE PHOTO: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

In April, Trump said he could not picture himself in a mask while greeting “presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens.” He also said he did not want to give journalists the pleasure of seeing him wear one.

JACKSONVILLE JOINS IN

The city of Jacksonville, Florida, where Trump will accept the Republican presidential nomination in August, adopted a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations on Monday.

Asked if the surge in cases and Jacksonville action had changed Trump’s thinking on masks, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump believed it was a personal choice. “But he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you,” she said.

Throughout the country, resistance to public health measures has taken on a partisan tone. A Reuters/Ipsos survey in May found one-third of Republicans were “very concerned” about the virus, compared to nearly half of Democrats.

New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, appealed to Trump to mandate wearing masks and lead by example. He pointed to states that reversed course and started requiring masks after seeing a surge. “Let the president have the same sense and do that as an executive order,” Cuomo told reporters.

Some Republicans in Congress have held off on wearing masks. Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas told CNN he would not wear one because “I don’t have the coronavirus.” Other Republicans have shied away from insisting Americans cover their faces in public, saying it was a matter of personal choice.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) adjusts his face mask as he listens to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak to reporters after the Senate Republicans weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington U.S., June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

That began to change as coronavirus cases nationwide soared to record levels, prompting Republican-led states like Texas and Florida to reimpose restrictions, such as closing recently reopened bars.

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged Americans to wear masks during a visit to Texas on Sunday.

U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming on Friday tweeted a photo of her father, Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a surgical mask with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Howard Goller

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